Janus leaned back in his chair. The beer he’d drunk over the night filled his veins with empty volume while leaving his hunger still gnawing, but he rode the buzz the beer created and painted the rings of condensation his glasses left on the table into wards.
He closed off the last one he was working on, and it made the wood of the table shiver. Another two lines — three if he kept the strokes tight — and he’d be able to put his fist through the wood like water. But he wiped the lines off before the hum became audible to humans and the dark shadows.
“Another?” the girl asked, removing his glass.
Janus shook his head. He pulled a couple bills from his wallet, waved off the coming change, and stumbled out of the bar. The beer he’d downed cleared the headache that was building. It upped his blood volume enough that his hunger was constant but no longer dizzying. It had been days since he’d fed. He was not without his own responsibilities, and they’d kept him in his own ivory tower for too long.
He found Jackie, clad in jeans and a thin t-shirt, leaning against a tree. Jackie was bobbing his head, looking like a junkie riding out his last high, but it was more than that. Jackie was tied to the hum of the city, and when Janus drank from him, he felt it, too.
Jackie always tasted sweet, like the sugary gummy things he ate instead of real food. “You’ve been gone a long time,” Jackie said, not opening his eyes.
“Yes.” The night was still early enough to have human predators circling about. Two of them, dressed in dark blue hoodies and gleaming white running shoes, eyed Jackie up and down, but then veered off when they noticed Janus standing over him. “You leave yourself vulnerable. It’s not safe for another couple hours.”
Jackie raised his hands up, trailing them along the sides of the tree. His shirt lifted, revealing his belly button. He smiled, a lazy motion, and he rotated his hips. He nodded along to Janus’s words, but obviously didn’t hear a word of it. He lifted his hair off his shoulders, exposing the delicate skin on his neck. He still swayed back and forth, running his other hand down his hip. “Dance with me, Janus. Please. Right here.”
Janus shook his head, but grabbed onto Jackie’s waist and pulled him closer. Jackie’s pulse was fast, almost that of a bird’s, and his breathing turned shallow. Janus licked the salty city grime off Jackie’s skin. His skin was so white, Janus doubted he saw the sun at all. The deep blue veins glowed beneath the skin, and the elastic skin gave way to Janus’s teeth. He sank his fangs in and felt the blood vessel burst open. Jackie didn’t flinch as Janus began to feed.
There was something wholly arousing about the taste of a human. Jackie groaned, obviously sharing in the feeling. The puncture wounds stopped their bleeding, but it was only enough to make the need in Janus’s belly thrum in his ears. He heard it now, the low beat of the earth, and it mingled with his rumbling hunger and Jackie’s lust and the need inside him.
Janus let the vein seal itself and then dropped to his knees, tugging at Jackie’s jeans. He yanked them down and felt Jackie’s femoral artery right beside his cheek. Janus dug his teeth in again, feeling the healthy skin give way to the puncture. Warm, sweet blood filled his mouth. Jackie’s heartbeat, while he drank, became his own. For as long as he drank, the world spun around them.
The astringent smell of semen mixed with Jackie’s tangy, salty sweat. Janus, now full, was aware he’d ripped the vein more than he should have, and kept tonguing the wound until his saliva acted as a coagulant. Platelets, saltier than blood, came to the surface of the wound, and Janus didn’t move off his knees until the bleeding had stopped. Jackie was still gasping for air, and his fingers were digging into the tree as though he was about to climb it backwards. His face was pale, and the sweat had dried on his face.
“You have to drink more tonight,” Janus said, straightening up.
Jackie’s hands moved ineffectually to his fly, but didn’t have the muscle coordination to do it up. Janus did it for him, patting him on the head as he would have a small child, and Jackie only smiled at him, still full of bliss. Jackie’s blood diffused into Janus’s veins, bringing with it the music only Jackie heard. It would die off soon enough, but as Jackie pushed away from the tree, Janus heard the music Jackie swayed to.
He never paid Jackie. It would have made the understanding they had into something unclean. Instead, Janus painted a ward onto Jackie’s skin with his own saliva. It was a simple ward, but one that would keep the human sharks from truly seeing him. It wasn’t invisibility, but would serve just as well. The spit glistened under the distant streetlight for a second and then disappeared into Jackie’s skin.
That seemed to pull Jackie from his stupor. “Be careful,” Jackie mumbled. He looked up at Janus, face serious for the first time that evening. “The wolf has lost his bite.”
Jackie wasn’t hearing him. Jackie bobbed his head, walking away, and crossed the empty street. He hadn’t even looked for traffic. Janus watched him wander into an alley, and waited until he felt him sleep before leaving him alone.
Despite it still being a few hours before dawn, Janus knew he should return to his lair. Or even his apartment, though it had been months since he’d been back to the other side of his world. He was full and satiated, but the restlessness inside him wasn’t settling. He couldn’t stop his fingers from tapping out the beginnings of wards on his thighs.
A whimpering came from the park, across the street, from beyond the bridle path and from the trees along the path. The dawn was coming on, but no accompanying heartbeat followed the sound. Janus followed it, into the darkness.
It was a brand new vampire. The marks on his neck had bled the most. He’d been turned this very night and then allowed to bleed out. Janus pushed through the deepening gloom, and the shadows stung him like a jellyfish. The vampire had stopped his whimpering, but his eyes were wide open and staring. His lips were torn, and where his fangs should have come down over his incisors, black holes still wept blood.
He was so bloodless his veins had collapsed beneath his transparent skin. There was something else wrong with him, Janus realized, beyond the empty sockets where his eyes used to be. A feeling of rage made Janus take a step back. He’d felt this before, with feral vampires who had been alone far too long, just before the shadows claimed them.
The vamp smelled of his own blood. He’d bled so much there wasn’t anything left inside of him to bleed. Janus grabbed a sturdy branch, intent on putting the poor thing out of its misery. But when he put it up where his heart was, the branch fell into the empty cavity.
A snake, black as the shadows, with iridescent eyes, coiled out from the cavity. It was at least three feet long. Someone had taken the vamp’s heart and put the snake in its place.
The shadows rushed in without a heart to keep them away. The collective of the unthinking hunger enveloped him, and the poor vampire did nothing to stop them from entering his head through the openings in his skull. For a moment, the shadows filled him so much that his back and shoulders came off the ground, and then he sank back into the earth. The shadows released all the light they had absorbed, and it was almost as light as day. Janus had to shade his eyes. He shuddered, not understanding, and hugged his leather jacket to his chest while walking back through the shadows.
They clung to him, fat now from the death they’d just taken, and he swatted them away like flies. His entire body felt electrified, and he jumped when a big black limousine with darkened windows glided to a stop beside him.
The window unrolled. One moment the car was seamless, the next the rich leather interior was exposed. The motor was barely a whisper. It was Strickland’s car; Janus smelled the elder on the leather.
“You’ve had your fun,” the human inside the car said. He was dressed in black with dark shades on. “My master would like to see you.”
Master of the Line series